In Search of a Perfect Palette

Armand Cabrera
An artist’s palette is their life’s blood. In some ways your palette defines your style more than your mark making does. The perfect palette has been searched for since artists started applying pigments to cave walls.
I think an artist’s palette should be organic and morph as our artistic tastes change. It should also reflect what we believe about painting. Whatever palette you choose as an artist it will serve you better if you make conscious decisions about the pigments you include.
When I started painting I was 15 and a sophomore in high school. I was given a set of acrylics for my birthday. I never questioned the pigment choices in the set and just began painting immediately. This type of palette is most artists’ first introduction to painting and I call it a stage one palette. A palette is chosen for you by someone who is hopefully more knowledgeable about painting than you are.  All of the pigments are there because someone told you to put them there and it doesn’t really matter who that person was. Many people stay in this stage for years never questioning their palette.
A stage two palette is an augmented stage one palette. It usually occurs when an artist’s ability catches up to their philosophy and they start to question their art to improve it. One of the ways we improve is by changing things up and the palette is a prime target for change. You start to see colors and values in other peoples work that you don’t see in your own. This usually leads to an inclusion of more colors to the palette, and more influences from videos, books and workshops and other artists as you expand your abilities with other pigments.
The final stage for an artist is a personal palette. A personal palette isn’t static and unchanging but it is self-directed. The artist through study and practice decides to include every pigment on their palette. The palette allows them to express themselves to their full potential as an artist. The palette may be limited to just a few colors or not, but all the colors are there for reasons the artist has decided upon, not anyone else.
My palette comes from years of exploring stage one palettes. I use a piece of glass on my studio table. My palette is a prismatic palette consisting eight pigments which are: Viridian, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Alizarin Permanent, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Yellow Pale, and Titanium White.  I not only use this palette for landscapes but also still life and figure painting. By removing earth colors and pure black I am forced to mix my grays which give me the opportunity to find more vibrant color choices than pure neutrals allow.

1 thought on “In Search of a Perfect Palette

  1. This is a great analysis of how an artist moves through palettes, Armand. Part of the joy of painting is the exploration that occurs as one begins to define the personal palette. Lately, after using a split-primary palette for years, I've fallen into using a few earth colors – burnt umber is my latest love – because the greys come so much more easily!

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